Friendship is about Dubai interview

Expat author Stefanie Opitz on why her book can help kids say 'goodbye'


Tell us a little bit about you
I grew up in the rural part of northern Germany. Art is something very close to my heart; as a little girl I drew all the time and specialised in Arts at school. Although, I then chose the practical route studying economics, I never lost my interest in art. Even as an adult, I enjoyed reading well illustrated children books, especially when it’s a cold, gloomy day, which is very often during winter in Germany. In 2008, a job opportunity came up for my husband and we moved to Dubai. We have been in this fascinating city ever since.

Tell us where the idea for the book came from?
As a mother of two little boys, I saw how the first day at a new school was intimidating and nerve-wracking for them. I also noticed that they had to constantly deal and wrestle with the emotions of new friends coming and old friends leaving regularly, probably much more than in any other city. Knowing that we would not be in Dubai forever, I wanted a keepsake book for my boys but couldn’t find what I was looking for. It was at this point, that the idea of my book came about. This book gave me the perfect opportunity to return to my passion, art, and to work on a theme that I had first-hand experience in.

What is the book about?
The book is about finding friendship amidst the constant coming and going in multi-cultural Dubai. The main character is an owl called Okelani who is new in town. On her first day at school, she meets three new friends. Together, the foursome discover the priceless value of friendship while exploring the city. The book ends on a bittersweet note as Lou the hippopotamus, leaves town but not before they take one last picture as a memory of their time in Dubai. At the end of the book, you can personalise it by inserting photographs of your time in the UAE.

What age range is it suitable for?
While this book was intended for children from three to 10 years. I have discovered that adults found this a great present for friends leaving the UAE as well.

Who are the characters?
My older son provided me with some great ideas when I was initially choosing the characters! The idea of the animal characters is that they are a reflection of the melting pot, Dubai: Tarun the Indian tiger, Lou the South African hippopotamus, Dina the Emirati camel and finally, Okelani the little owl.

Do you think kids here will be able to relate to the story?
Absolutely! The first day at school is an important milestone for every child and children remember very clearly that first day. Settling into school and making new friends, then sharing new experiences with them are topics that all children can relate to. While reading my book in schools, I
always start a lively conversation when asking the children if they know a friend who left Dubai.

Where can we get a copy of the book and how much is it for?
Friendship is about Dubai is available at Smitten, a trendy boutique for maternity fashion and kid’s clothing. Price is Dhs75.

What advice would you give to parents if their child is going to say goodbye to a friend?
There is no easy answer as, to a child, having to say goodbye to a close friend can be the most heart-breaking thing in the world. Parents could remind their children that friendship does not end when a friend leaves Dubai. Technology today helps us to stay close to each other. As the characters in the book say, “we will meet again one day” and “I will email you soon”.

What are the future plans?
I’m currently working on my second book!

The book is available in Smitten stores, Dubai Marina Mall. Also in World Trade Centre Mall, Abu Dhabi. Visit, Dubai (04 451 9779), Abu Dhabi (02 622 4303).

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